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Does Looting Matter?

Those attending the AIA Conference in Philadelphia are warmly invited to attend the Roundtable Discussion Group, "Does Looting Matter?".

Date: Saturday 7 January 2012. Time: 11.30 am - 1.00 pm. Franklin Hall

Here are some ideas for the discussion:

Why should archaeologists care about looting?

First, there are the material consequences: archaeological sites are disturbed and wrecked.

Second, there are the intellectual consequences: the loss of information that hinders the interpretation of the objects.

The last five years have seen renewed interest in the damage to the archaeological record of Italy. Well over 100 objects have been returned from North American public and private collections to the Italian state, many of them identified from photographic images seized in the Geneva Freeport. Why did high profile institutions continue to acquire recently surfaced objects in spite of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Are the present Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) guidelines having an impact on acquisition policies for archaeological material?

Objects identified from the Geneva Polaroids have been surfacing on the London and New York markets in recent years. How have galleries and auction houses reacted to requests to withdraw material from sale? Is there a new ethical framework for the selling objects? The investigations into the returns have raised further issues. They include the fabrication of collecting histories or “provenance”. Objects have been placed in genuine but poorly documented collections to present a believable veneer of truth.

The investigations have also raised concerns about how objects passed through the market and the role of scholars in providing attributions. The place of so-called “orphans”, or fragments from pots, have started to shed light on how these networks operated.

What are the outstanding issues? How should museums respond to claims on material in their collections? How can the due diligence process be improved and be made more rigorous? Do museums policies cover the long-term loan of archaeological material? What steps can “source” countries take to reduce looting? Would a “licit market” make a difference? What place is there for discussion using the “new media” and Web 2.0 technologies?

Join the debate!

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